At times, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini speaks almost entirely in platitudes. And this is fine because she’s Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, a woman so beloved that even a complicated double-barrelled surname cannot dispel her myth. “I’d been on a treadmill all the way through my twenties,” she says at one point. “I felt numb for the longest time ever,” she repeats more than once. “I was just a young girl with a dream,” she says around three quarters of the way through our interview. “And sometimes” – dramatic pause – “it’s been a nightmare.” But this, I suppose, is what happens when you become a Princess Diana for the X Factor generation.
Despite all of this turbulence – perhaps because of all of this – the British public have rallied around her: Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, formerly Cole, née Tweedy, is the one of the most successful British female artists of all time, and has sold almost two million albums since going solo five years ago, adding to the six platinum records she released as part of Girls Aloud. From zeitgeisty teenagers to middle-aged political journalists, few interviewees prompt such a singular reaction when I mention her name. It’s a delightfully joyous look that suggests that every time she walks in to a room she is responsible for a lot of affectionate pant-wetting.
We meet in an east London studio on a sunny February afternoon. Fernandez-Versini has been shooting since the morning with the professionalism of Kate Moss and the manners of Kate Middleton. She is self-critical about how she looks in some photos, but is very polite about everything. She is wearing a baggy jumper, jeans and fluffy Birkenstock slippers. Her entourage – an assistant and her PR – is smaller than the rock on her engagement finger, but she won’t talk about her marriage, other than to tell me her French is coming along – “I understand it more than I can speak it. I’m definitely not there yet, but I understand” – and that she thinks there is no real rule book to marriage.
“You hear so many stories, don’t you? People who have known each other two weeks and they’re together for 75 years, people who have been together six months and they break up. So there’s no right or wrong.” She beams when I congratulate her, refuses even to dignify rumours of pregnancy with a response, and says only that “it’s good, it’s a good time in my life”.
With Ashley Cole, she was “so open” – what with the wedding photos going to OK! magazine, not to mention the ad the couple did for the National Lottery – and all she got in return was mockery (he was very, very unfaithful). So now her lips are sealed. “I have to have something that’s for me,” she says. “I’m aware that everybody wants to know what the eff is going on, but I’m not going to say anything, for my sanity.”
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